FEATURE: Happy 44th Birthday Hip-Hop | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Word up, b-boys and b-girls! 

I’m here – live, direct and in full effect – to kick you some knowledge about something near and dear to my heart: Hip-Hop.

Believe it or not, there was a time when those words were simply the opening lyric to Rapper’s Delight. 

This ridiculously catchy tune – by rap pioneers Sugarhill Gang – first arrived on the scene in 1979, a mere six years after that fateful August night MC Coke La Rock coupled his rhythmic chants with DJ Kool Herc’s percussive breakbeats at a Bronx block party to conceive what came to be known as Hip-Hop.

Although not the world’s first commercially released rap song, it would go on to become the then-fledgling genre’s first bonafide hit.

In the almost four decades since then, Hip-Hop – that oh-so alluring lovechild of whimsy and grit – has travelled leaps and bounds to become not just an all-encompassing lifestyle, but also the dominant force in global pop culture.

Just scroll through any Top-whatever chart if you don’t believe me. Hip-Hop really does make the world go round!

But there’s more to it than just some fly rhymes kicked over dope beats. The crux of Hip-Hop’s globe-spanning influence and appeal lies, arguably, in the infinite transferability of its ever-enduring traditions.

Take sampling, which involves the splicing of an audio clip from a classic movie or oldie – with permission from its original creator(s) – into a new composition.

Coincidentally, Rapper’s Delight also happens to be the first rap song to make use of a sample. Its unsanctioned interpolation of Bernard Edwards’ groovy bassline from Chic’s monster hit Good Times resulted in a legal fracas that saw both Edwards and Nile Rodgers added to its long list of songwriters.

Did you know that, despite this controversial legacy, wunderkind auteur Darren Aronofsky successfully applied sampling’s ingenious technique to film editing – most notably on his harrowing masterpiece Requiem for a Dream – and birthed the extensively co-opted Hip-Hop Montage in the process?

What began as a film school experiment for Aronofsky is now frequently used by the likes of Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie to convey everything from comedic hijinks to transcontinental travel. Good on ya, Daz!

There’s also the art of graffiti – Hip-Hop’s brash, bold and decidedly sassy ode to ancient hieroglyphics – which is vividly explored in Style Wars, a rivetting and aptly-titled documentary, co-produced by acclaimed American photographer Henry Chalfant. 

Set in the urban wasteland that was New York in the 1980s, this compelling doc can be viewed in all of its super-grainy glory on YouTube, and will afford you an eye-opening peek at the roots of Hip-Hop culture, while highlighting the many creative (and legal) challenges faced by its talented subjects.

Now I know I said Hip-Hop wasn’t all about talking slick, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its placed emphasis on dexterous verbosity. From mind-boggling double/ triple entendres to jaw-droppingly witty puns, this wordy genre’s got you covered. 

And these days, you can’t mention Hip-Hop or verbosity without thinking about that very talented actor/ rapper/ stand-up comedian/ all-round good egg Doc Brown. 

You’ve probably seen Brown – real name Ben Smith, the younger brother of novelist Zadie Smith – in a smattering of versatile film and TV roles, from The Inbetweeners to Life On The Road with David, but it’s his quirky stand-up-meets-rap sets that really take the cake.

The former underground battle rapper flits from zinging quip to sharp-tongued riposte so effortlessly during his side-splitting performances, that it’s no surprise he’s got an hour-long Beeb comedy special dropping later in the year.

Until it arrives, why not immerse yourself in Brown’s 4-album-deep discography and plethora of YouTube videos? Trust me, you’ll be itching to try your hand at rhyming couplets before you know it.

Hip-Hop’s invigorating life force now runs through all aspects of contemporary pop culture, like blood coursing through veins – creating, nourishing and shaping in its wake. 

Not too shabby for a once derided counterculture.

It’s like my man Biggie Smalls – the greatest rapper of all time, bar none – once said: you never thought that Hip-Hop would take it this far!

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